STORM FROM THE SHADOWS – snippet 85:
Anisimovna followed him across the anteroom. She wasn’t certain that little bit of theater had been necessary, but it wouldn’t hurt to make her hosts aware of her own importance, especially since she was officially here as a private person. Of course, most private persons didn’t travel in their personal hyper-capable yachts or come equipped with personal enhanced bodyguards. And Taliadoros’ reference to “the regulations” should also neatly suggest that whether she was supposed to be a private person or not, she actually wasn’t.
Which is fair enough, since I’m not, even if everyone is about to spend the next few hours pretending I am.
She stepped through yet another door into an absolutely magnificent office overlooking downtown Siena, the capital of the planet of New Tuscany. Several people were waiting for her.
President Alain Boutin, the official head of state of the New Tuscany System, stood in courteous greeting behind his shuttle-sized desk as she entered. System Prime Minister Maxime Vézien, the real head of government, turned from the floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the capital city of Livorno with a smile of welcome of his own, and Alesta Cardot, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Nicholas Pélisard, the Minister of War, turned from their quiet side conversation with Honorine Huppé, the Minister of Trade. Damien Dusserre, the New Tuscan Minister of Security, stood by himself by the bookcases lining one wall of the office, and his smile was much cooler — and less professional — than Vézien’s.
I wish there’d been time for a little more research, Anisimovna thought as she crossed the large room to the desk. There’d barely been time on the voyage here for her to fully absorb the in-depth briefing on New Tuscany’s current state of affairs; there certainly hadn’t been enough time for any sort of detailed historical study, and she had absolutely no idea, for example, why a planet named for a region of Old Terra’s Italy should be inhabited by people with almost uniformly French names.
“Ms. Anisimovna!” Boutin offered his hand across the desk. When she took it, he raised her hand to his lips and brushed a kiss across its back, and she smiled at him.
“It was most gracious of you to agree to see me, Mr. President. And especially on such short notice.”
“Mr. Metcalf made it clear your business was urgent,” Boutin replied. “And, to be frank, that you . . . unofficially represent, shall we say, import interests on Mesa.”
“Yes, I suppose I do,” she said with a whimsical smile. She rather wished that Valery Ottweiler, the Mesan attaché who had been her official aide in Myers when the Monica operation was first mounted, had been available here, as well. She’d found his competence both impressive and comforting. But he was still back in Myers, where he had his own part to play, and Jansen Metcalf, the Mesan trade attaché who had been upgraded into a full ambassador when New Tuscany withdrew from the Spindle constitutional convention, was supposed to be a competent type, as well. He wouldn’t be present today, however, of course. The fact that Mesa’s official representative was absent — and that he had emphasized her own “unofficial” status ahead of time — were two more of the little clues that, in fact, she not only did speak for the true rulers of Mesa but that what she had to say was very important indeed.
“Please, allow me to introduce my colleagues,” Boutin said, and Anisimovna nodded pleasantly to each of the others in turn as the President murmured their names. Not that anyone in that room at that moment actually needed to be introduced to anyone else, she was quite certain.
Introductions completed, she settled into a comfortable chair, crossed her long legs, and leaned back. During her first visit to Roberto Tyler, Anisimovna had deliberately chosen a gown which emphasized the rich perfection of her own figure. Boutin and — even more importantly — Vézien were far less likely to be swayed by any physical charms, however provocatively displayed, and so she had chosen a severely tailored outfit in midnight blue. And, while she had no qualms about using whatever tactics — or attributes — would get the job done, she had to admit that she much preferred not feeling like a gussied up pleasure slave.
“And now, Ms. Anisimovna, may we know what it is that brings you to New Tuscany?”
“To be totally frank, Mr. President, I’m here in no small part because of the rather disastrous occurrences in Monica,” she said, and hid a smile at the shock in the New Tuscans’ faces.
Didn’t expect me to own right up to the fact that we were involved in that little catastrophe, did you? she thought sardonically. Well, I’ve got a few more surprises in store for you, as well.
“I’m sure you’re all well aware of what happened to the Union of Monica,” she continued calmly. “That regrettable state of affairs was the result of a combination of coincidences no one could have predicted, coupled with a certain degree of botched execution on the Monicans’ part.”
“We have had reports on those . . . events,” Boutin said slowly, his eyes flickering sideways to Dusserre. “May I ask exactly what about them has brought you to speak to us?”
“Frankly, Mr. President, we have no interest in seeing the Manties expanding their control and influence into this region of space,” she replied with an air of total candor. “I’m sure all of you are very well aware of the long-standing hostility between the business community of Mesa and the Star Kingdom of Manticore. And as Manticore has demonstrated quite often in the past — and very recently, in Monica — the ‘Star Kingdom’ has never been shy about resorting to the use of naked force in the pursuit of its policy objectives. It seems very evident to us in the Mesa System that the establishment of a Manticoran bridgehead here in Talbott will almost inevitably lead to further harassment of Mesa and, quite possibly, to actual Manticoran military operations against Mesa in the not-too-distant future. That, to be completely honest, was the reason for our initial contacts with President Tyler.
“Unfortunately, as all of you are also aware, the Constitutional Convention in Spindle has ratified this new constitution, turning virtually the entire Cluster into another lobe of the Star Kingdom. Which means, of course, that what we hoped to prevent as a measure of self-defense by means of our support for President Tyler has become an established fact.”